By the time the inevitable zombie apocalypse does come around, gamers will most certainly be the best equipped to survive. Well, as long as the apocalypse comes with extra lives, save-points and pause buttons.
Gamers have really taken zombies to their hearts in recent times with Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, COD’s zombie modes and the undead have even burst into Japan’s next Yakuza game. So will our love for the groaning shufflers go on, or will our enthusiasm fade like a Romero movie fan watching his latest 21st Century zombie-flick-flop?
Dead Nation is a retro-styled twin-stick shooter that flits between isometric and overhead viewpoints as you make your way through a long night of zombie survival. The story is told via the now standard credit-crunch concept art with a tiny bit of animation. City streets, graveyards, freeways and skyscraper rooftops all need to be waded through either by yourself or with a buddy in local or online co-op. You can work through the whole game together or just tackle a stage, many of which can take 20 minutes to finish.
The standard rifle that will become your most-used weapon throughout the game is powerful, but it’s hard to tell it’s having an impact much of the time. This is largely because you can’t really see the bullets flying through the air. You only know you’ve killed a zombie when the flashes of red and gold fly off it to indicate money and score multipliers. Some zombies, like the red ones, don’t give you anything though. So on tougher difficulty settings it can be difficult to tell who’s still alive in the darkness, especially when extra hits are needed to take anything down.
There is a charged shot on the rifle, which will perform a headshot that will hit any zombies lined-up behind one another. Looks cool, but you could have fired off a dozen single shots in the time it takes to charge, and probably done more damage too. This is the only weapon that comes with infinite ammo. At least melee strikes aren’t limited.
It’s a game that requires you to be careful with your ammo for the bigger weapons like the flamethrower or the shocker. And that’s a damn shame because these weapons are outrageously awesome to use and run out of ammo all too soon. You can buy more at the weapon store checkpoints, but they’re too far apart to satisfy your lust for frying crowds of the undead.
All weapons are upgradable at the stores. Power, rate-of-fire, clip size and overall capacity can all be improved with cash. Don’t be stingy, upgrade the hell out of your rifle as soon as you can.
Along with grenades, flares, mines and molotovs you can also use environmental hazards to blow up the horde. Naturally there are exploding barrels, but you can also use cars. The best cars are the ones with alarms. Put a round into one of these, setting off the alarm and the zombies will run over to it and hammer away until it explodes, giving you a chance to get by and blowing them up in the process.
The zombie masses do have a little variety to them. A single crowd may be made up of standard shufflers, sprinters or onion-shaped exploding nasties. Later on you’ll have to deal with stomping berserkers and knife-fisted hulks.
They came out of the darkness…
The game’s just so dark sometimes, it’s hard to tell what’s dead (as in completely, utterly, finally dead) and what’s still shuffling towards you. Every now and then an explosion or a lightning flash will light up the area and show that there’s a fine-looking game hidden beneath the darkness. With a bit of extra permanent lighting this would have been a much better game as the torch on the front of your gun does little to penetrate the gloom of most stages. This is very much an arcade shooter, so let’s not kid ourselves that it’s adding a survival horror edge to things. At least the animation and frame-rate is smooth throughout even when the screen starts to fill up.
The sheer numbers of enemies the game throws at you is impressive and can create genuine panic as you retreat from a fresh onslaught only to find out that another wave is coming at you from behind. At least you can go back-to-back in co-op.
It’s a little disappointing that there’s no variety to the gameplay, even when another player is thrown into the mix, it’s just more tapping of the R1 button. If someone dies in a co-op game you can’t revive them, but they will respawn when the surviving player reaches the next checkpoint. There’s no option to jump into co-op straight from single player mode, which is strange and disappointing considering the levels are the same in both.
In co-op games, money found in hidden in a stage is shared when picked up, but cash earned from killing a zombie is separate. The score is the only way to ‘compete’ against each other, a simple ‘kill-count’ for each player is a curious omission. While more enjoyable in co-op, it’s not an experience where you’ll want to communicate with each other much. It’s just a case of kill everything and move on.
The points you earn throughout are added to your online leaderboard which in turn contributes to your country’s fight to cleanse the zombies. There’s another leaderboard tracking which country is doing the best job. At the time of writing, little Finland, was bravely holding off the US for the lead. The UK is languishing in 8th.
Nice graphics, when they get a bit of light
Local or online co-op adds length to the game
Just stand and watch the flamethrower do it’s work
Rifle feels underpowered
The Short Version: Fun while it lasts but very repetitive. There’s nothing new on show here, but when played co-op with a friend or with a silent stranger online you can just tune out and enjoy the slaughter.